December 04, 2007

Raptor Reflections

No Chris Bosh, no Andrea Bargnani and no T.J. Ford for the Toronto Raptors last night. Didn’t matter much, as the Raptors cruised to a 21-point win. Thank goodness the Charlotte Bobcats are one pathetic excuse for a basketball team.

It’s a good thing the Raptors have one of the deepest lineups in the league. Seven guys finished in double-figures in scoring last night, with Kris Humphries leading the way with 17 points in only 21 minutes on the floor. Yep, you read that correctly, the Hump was on fire last night. So was Joey Graham. He got his first start of the year last night and he chipped in with 13 points on five-of-six shooting. Good Joey was definitely in the house and he threw down a couple of sick, wicked and nasty jams to boot.

It also helped, just a wee bit, that the Bobcats shot a putrid 33% from the field. Yikes. Jason Richardson was especially inept, draining only three of his 17 field goal attempts. He was chucking like George Costanza last night.

The deep Raptors bench is coming in handy, as the team is being ravaged by injury once again. What a surprise. I’m almost used to it now. No team can hide from the injury plague that has enveloped this great city’s professional sports franchises. The Raps have been hit hard again, and fast. Only Anthony Parker, Jason Kapono, Carlos Delfino and Jose Calderon have played in all 18 of the team’s games.

Bryan Colangelo, the architect, knew depth would be the Raptors strength. That’s why he signed Maceo Baston, Kapono, the athletic freak of nature known as Jamario Moon, and acquired Carlos Delfino. After last night’s win, which pushed the Raptors record to 10-8 on the season (good for second in the Atlantic division and fourth in the Eastern Conference), the Raptors have six guys averaging more than 10 points a game on the season - Bosh, Ford, Bargnani, Parker, Kapono and Delfino. Jose Calderon is right on the cusp, averaging 9.9 points a game. Me, I round up, so make that seven guys averaging more than 10 points a game.

How about this Jamario Moon fellow? Ain’t he something? The 27-year-old rookie from Alabama has apparently played in every basketball league that exists in North America, and is finally getting his shot in the NBA thanks to the Raptors.

And his nickname sure is a beauty – Super Jamario. Best nickname in town, by far. Like Super Mario when he got a feather in the video game, Super Jamario can fly. He’s got ridiculous hops and is an animal on the boards. He’s exactly what a weak-rebounding team like the Raptors needed.

When you look at Moon’s statistics, it’s pretty amazing what he’s done for the Raptors this year, considering he was a long-shot to even make the team. He’s averaging more than 31 minutes a game, second on the team to CB4, and 7.5 rebounds a game, second, again, only to the leader of the pack, CB4. He’s shooting 44% from the floor and leads the team in blocks per game (1.6).

Chuck Swirsky has now taken to saying “he just got Mooned!” whenever Moon rejects an opponents shot, and it’s usually followed by the crowd howling “Moooooooon.” It’s fantastic! The crowds at the ACC have taken to this guy, and he’s already got a loyal following. Super Jamario, indeed.

My question is: where the hell did this guy come from? He was in training camp on a tryout and the Raps cut Luke Jackson so they could sign Moon to a contract worth $487,000. Pennies! What a bargain. Once again, one has to credit Colangelo and his staff. Every NBA team had a chance to sign Moon, but he ended up in Toronto. Colangelo for President. If he can turn around the Toronto Raptors, he can turn around America.

I’ve heard rumblings that Super Jamario might enter the slam-dunk contest during all-star weekend. The contest has gotten pretty weak in recent years but I’m all for Moon entering it, and winning it. He can fly, for real.

Moon’s good fortune is, in all honesty, due to Jorge Garbajosa’s misfortune. His leg (or is it his ankle?) isn’t healed, he’s having surgery again, and he’s done for the year. Brutal.

The whole Garbo debate has been discussed at length in the Toronto media and I don’t want to say much about it, partly because it reminds me of him crashing to the ground in Boston, with his foot pointing in a direction it, umm, ain’t supposed to be pointing in. It still makes me cringe. All I’ve got to say is that Garbo is in this situation because of Garbo. If it’s true that the Raptors medical staff recommended a second surgery over the summer which he chose to ignore (in Garbo’s defense, his Spanish doctor said he didn’t need the second surgery), well then this whole mess is his own fault.

It’s tough to berate a guy for wanting to play for his country, and clearly playing for Spain in September meant a lot to Garbo. But Spain had already qualified for next year’s Olympics. The EuroBasket tournament in September meant absolutely nothing to Spain. It was a meaningless tournament and Garbo should have been looking out for, first of all, his own health, and second of all, the Toronto Raptors, the team that employs him. I’m not upset at Garbo’s decision – I can’t be mad at him for wanting to play for his country – but I think he should have been smarter about it. There was no need to go and play, especially when a second surgery was being recommended. Garbo saw, like the rest of us did, that the Raptors missed his presence on the floor after he went down, especially in the playoffs. And he knew, better than anyone else, what a horrific injury his was. Why not continue to rehab, get ready for the season and then focus on the Olympics next summer? I just don’t get it.

Garbo’s going under the knife any day now. Turns out he’s got to have that second surgery, anyways. Your guess as to when he’ll be back is as good as mine. By the time he is fully healthy, it will have been a long time since he’ll have played meaningful and competitive basketball in the NBA. It’s an unfortunate turn of events for Garbo and the Raptors. The relationship between the team and Garbo has definitely soured due to the whole mess, and it seems like years ago that Garbo arrived in Toronto and quickly endeared himself to the fans and management as a hard-working, blue-collar baller. The whole thing just stinks, but Garbo’s pain is Jamario Moon’s gain, and who knows where Garbo will find himself on the Raptors depth chart when he is ready to return. All I know is that Super Jamario is making Garbo-gate a lot easier to swallow.

I thought I said I didn’t want to say much about Garbo-gate? Jeez. On to happier thoughts, such as Carlos Delfino, the Silent Assassin. How good is this guy, eh? I’ve been so incredibly impressed by Delfino after the Raptors’ first 18 games. He brings it every night, especially on the defensive end of the floor. He’s already become the Raptors best one-on-one defender and he can rebound. He’s got a knack for the ball, and his 5.1 rebounds a game are third-best on the team.

Hard to believe that it only cost the Raptors a second-round draft pick to bring Delfino over from the Detroit Pistons. Another steal by Colangelo. Chalk it up! Doug Smith got it right when he said that the Delfino trade is right up there with Haffa for Humphries. It’s gold, Jerry, gold!

In all seriousness, I think it’s time Bryan Colangelo is nominated for the Nobel Prize. His work on the Toronto Raptors has been nothing short of spectacular.

Delfino, who is quickly becoming one of my favourite Raptors, will be a free-agent at season’s end, but the Raptors have the right to match any contract offer he receives. With the way Delfino’s been playing, I’m confident he’ll be in a Raptors uniform for a long, long time. In Colangelo I trust.

I’m sure the Raptors are not overly pleased with their 10-8 record. They’ve beaten a lot of marginal basketball teams (see: Philadelphia (twice) and Charlotte), but considering the injury problems they’ve had to deal with, a 10-8 record suits me just fine. Bosh, Ford, Rasho Nesterovic, Graham and Bargnani have all missed time on the floor already this young season. The team will hopefully get healthy as soon as possible and they’re going to need all hands on deck, especially Bosh, because the rest of December is going to be tough. The December schedule is Western Conference heavy – we all know the West is best – and includes a seven-game road trip that starts on the 18th, is broken-up by the Christmas break, and ends on the 31st. Needless to say, it should be an interesting month.

Before I bid you adieu, I’ve got to show some love to Jose Calderon. He’s been about as close to flawless as one can be ever since Ford went down with another “stinger.” It’s no secret that Calderon could be a starting point guard on a number of NBA teams. He can play. He’s a pass-first point guard, but he’s also developed confidence in his shot and in his ability to drive the lane. His 7.9 to 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio is incredible and tops in the league, by a country mile.

Since Ford went down, Calderon has started the Raptors last seven games. In those seven games he’s compiled a whopping 75 assists and, brace yourself, only 10 turnovers. In a three-game stretch at the end of last month (November 24, 25 and 28 against Cleveland, Chicago, and Memphis respectively) Calderon dished out 37 dimes, scored 39 points, while committing only ONE turnover. Flawless.

It’s been a pleasure to have watched Calderon develop into a frighteningly good point guard over the last two and a half years. During his rookie year, I wasn’t too fond of the Spaniard. He had zero confidence and I didn’t think he’d be sticking around in Toronto, or the NBA, too long. Now, he is one half of the best back-court in the NBA. Sometimes I love being so foolishly wrong.

A lot of people in this (already ridiculously freezing cold) city think Calderon should start, even when Ford is healthy. Me, I don’t really care, as long as they are both playing. Mitchell employs the two of them in a system that works, and instead of griping over who should start, I’m more comfortable simply embracing “Forderon” because it’s a beautiful thing.

Calderon is also heading into free-agency, and some team out there is going to make him a very, very rich man. Remember, he’s only 26 years old. He’s only going to get better. I’m not sure what Colangelo has planned for Calderon. I’m not sure what Calderon has planned for himself. He’s always been the consummate team player, saying that as long as the team wins, he is happy with what ever role he’s given. But I’m sure he’s always dreamt of being a starting point guard in the NBA, and he certainly has the talent to do so. For now, I’m going to enjoy Calderon in a Raptors uniform, while hoping that he stays in Toronto for years to come, so Forderon can live long and prosper.

What ever happens to Calderon, whether he is traded or walks away as a free agent, I’ll deal with it. I know there’s a master plan and that the organization is in good hands. Calderon’s situation goes back to my mantra when it comes to the Toronto Raptors:

In Colangelo I trust.